Battle of the insiders

“I was a minister in Netanyahu’s government and know it’s impossible to create change from there.”

Those are the words of Avi Gabbay, the embattled leader of Israel’s rapidly-fading Labor Party.

But they could equally be the words of Yair Lapid, the leader of the main party of the political center Yesh Atid, or Tzipi Livni, of Hatnua, or Moshe Ya’alon, who’s heading a new centrist political party. They could be spoken by some on the political margins today (but with lingering ambitions) like former prime minister Ehud Barak.

And of course all the leading lights of the center right and the far right – all are now appealing for votes by denouncing Netanyahu and his government, even though until very recently, they were all happy to serve as ministers in that government.

It seems that the one thing the entire political class has in common is its experience as ministers in a Netanyahu-led government.

And they all seem to agree that the experience was not a particularly good one, and that Netanyahu is not the best person to lead the country.

And yet according to the polls, the next government of the country will be led by Netanyahu, and the same politicians who today bemoan their experience in governments he led will be lining up to become ministers in the next government.

No wonder people are cynical.

One thing that most people can agree on is that things under Netanyahu’s leadership are – to put it mildly – not great. There is, at the very least, room for improvement.

Some might go much further and say – and I would say this – that the Netanyahu government has been a disaster of historic proportions.

Despite whatever economic success the Israeli “start up nation” has achieved, inequality is greater than ever, poverty rates have soared, and many people struggle to make ends meet.

The absence of any progress in the “peace process” – and those words really have to put inside quotation marks – can be blamed on many different actors, including the Palestinians. But does anyone really believe that Netanyahu and his government actually have any intention of trying to solve this hundred year old conflict? I doubt it.

Israel needs a new leadership, with new answers and a new vision.

Instead, it’s getting a tribe of insiders, who care very little about winning elections knowing in advance that Likud will emerge as the leading party and its leader, Netanyahu, will form the next government. That’s why they fight lackluster campaigns, without any enthusiasm. They all wait for the morning after when the deal-making can begin and each can claim its ministerial seats.

This is not what happens in most mature democracies. For all their flaws, in countries like the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia or France, there are governments and there are oppositions to those governments. No one expects Bernie Sanders to become a member of Donald Trump’s government. Mrs. May is not inviting Jeremy Corbyn to be her deputy Prime Minister. In Australia, the Labor Party is fighting to oust the country’s right wing government – not join it as junior partners.

Israeli politics is not lacking in outsiders. And by that I don’t mean aspiring outsiders like Avi Gabbay, now pretending to learn the lessons of participation the Netanyahu government and promising never to repeat that mistake.

There are genuine outsiders, people like Dov Khenin, the Communist MK now retiring from parliamentary activism to work for social change in a different way. There is Meretz, the eternal outsider, who have spent a quarter of a century on the outside with no sign, ever, of breaking out of their electoral ghetto. There are tiny left-wing parties on the very fringe, such as Daam, which have no potential of crossing the electoral threshold any time soon.

So where is the hope for change? Not among the insiders, for sure. A government that includes Avi Gabbay, Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livne, or Moshe Ya’alon is not a government that will change anything that matters.

And if I shut up right there, you’d think that I was a pessimist, that I saw no hope, but that’s absolutely not the case.

I see hope everywhere, in every NGO that campaigns for peace and reconciliation, in every group of workers that organizes themselves into a trade union and goes on strike to defend their rights, to all those who battle day in and day out for human rights, for women’s rights, for LGBTI rights, for the environment, for the rights of the Palestinians who live inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories.

Public opinion surveys consistently show that the vast majority of Israelis want peace and are prepared to make concessions to get peace.

The problem is not a lack of will among the Israeli public. It is the politicians who attack Netanyahu in the weeks leading up to an election and embrace him the morning after.

And the way forward to not to choose the least of these evils but instead to build up – from scratch if necessary – new political forces that may do most of their work outside of the Knesset, in the streets, in the workplaces and communities. Those forces could, over time, create political parties that represent the interests of the majority of Israelis who want peace and social justice.

We start there, at the bottom, at the grassroots, and we build up a movement for change. And we never, ever vote for politicians whose dream is to serve as ministers under Bibi Netanyahu.

About the Author
Eric Lee is the founding editor of LabourStart, the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement. His most recent book is The Experiment: Georgia's Forgotten Revolution 1918-1921 (Zed Books, 2017). He was a member of Kibbutz Ein Dor from 1981-1998.